At the end of the day, we need to adhere to the same consultation rules for our families that we apply to patients.
My husband has been having some discomfort lately with postnasal drip into his throat. I have been telling him for months to try Mucinex to break it up. “What will that do?” he would ask. “It comes from my nose.” So, we both continued to suffer, my husband with his constant throat clearing, and me, having to listen to it.
Every day I would say, “Try the Mucinex!” and he didn’t.
Recently, on a long car ride, I said, “I’m going to Google this.” Straight from Wikihow, while he was driving, I read out loud, “Try a salt water gargle, try to elevate your head while you sleep. Oh look, it says to try Mucinex.”
Sure enough, when we got to our destination, we stopped at a pharmacy and picked up a bottle. And sure enough, it worked.
This experience led me to thinking, I have been a pharmacist for 17 years! Six years of school! A doctorate! One of the most trusted healthcare professions year after year! Why is he listening to Wikihow over ME? It made me wonder: Do a lot of pharmacists have family members/spouses who disregard their advice? And why?
I set out to do some informal research in a Facebook pharmacist group. I was overwhelmed by the number of responses. Turns out I’m not the only pharmacist whose advice is ignored by family.
One of my favorites was, Stacy, a pharmacist who sent her husband to the grocery store for aloe and ibuprofen for sunburn. Sounds like a reasonable treatment, right? The husband returned soon after, proudly carrying coconut oil and Neosporin. Why? Because the Winn Dixie cashier recommended it, of course!
Another favorite is a pharmacist named Kim, who carefully demonstrated proper technique of a Ventolin HFA inhaler to her mother. When her mother complained that it wasn’t working, Kim asked her to demonstrate how she had been using it. Mom sprayed the Ventolin away from her body and walked through it like perfume. “Why?” Kim asked. “I didn’t think you knew what you were talking about,” replied her mom.
Another pharmacist, Susie, shared that she had been telling her Dad for many years to try Gaviscon liquid for his reflux. He never took it, until six years later, when his physician told him to try it. When Susie told him that was the medicine she has been telling him to try for many years, he replied, “Oh well, I don’t really listen to your advice!”
Camilla tells us that despite proper counseling, her father takes his statin “as needed,” because he knows when his cholesterol is high. Jennifer reports that her mom used to wait for the pharmacy to open so that she could talk to a “real pharmacist.”
On a more serious note, Trista recalls a time when she urged her grandmother to seek a second opinion, because her dark, tarry stools could be a sign of cancer. Her grandmother did not get a second opinion and ended up passing away from stomach cancer.
However, Kristine shared a heartwarming story–her father used to get annoyed with her, because she would organize and help him with his medications. She asked, “Dad, how much did you spend on my college tuition?” He just looked at her and smiled. She replied, “You should enjoy getting the rewards of that investment and not be annoyed.” He never questioned his daughter again after that.
In over 100 comments, it seems many of us have this same experience–we have the knowledge, and our patients appreciate it, but our family members do not always appreciate it. Some of us keep trying, and some throw up their hands.
What is the reason for not listening to a pharmacist family member?
For an expert opinion on this frustrating and perplexing situation, I turned to Jennifer Surak-Zammitti, LCSW. She explains that being a professional does not always mean that those closest and dearest to us will take the advice or recommendations we give them.
Sometimes it’s as simple as they do not see us as professionals in the way our patients and colleagues do. “Maybe to them we are still that young child who doesn’t know anything,” Surak-Zammitti says. “It may also be that we have crossed some sort of invisible line that is set in the unconscious. When someone close to us can fix us whether it’s a medication suggestion for a simple cold or helping them understand their diagnosis, they have crossed over into some uncomfortable territory. But why, aren’t we family/friends and aren’t we supposed to help? One would think so, but in reality, it can set off the ‘you think you are better than me, you think you know everything’ alarm in their head.”
Surak-Zammitti suggests asking for permission before giving advice. “Simply ask them, ‘would it be okay if I gave you advice on this, the way I would to my own patients?’” She recommends letting the person know you will not be offended if they refuse, and if they do refuse, “Let it go and do not bring it back up. Letting go of this may make them more likely to come around to you. Asking them over and over again or just giving them advice unwarranted will only make them disregard you further.”
Surak-Zammitti’s final words of advice? “While this may be frustrating, at the end of the day, we have to follow the same rules we do with our patients and not push them if they are not ready and to follow their lead.”
Karen Berger, PharmD, works in an independent pharmacy in Northern New Jersey.